Obama Names Virginia Governor as Democratic National Committee Chairman

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 8, 2009

Barack Obama formally named Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine chairman of the Democratic National Committee yesterday, making him the guardian of the valuable political brand that grew up around the president-elect during the 2008 campaign.

At a news conference announcing the selection, Obama said he and Kaine share a "pragmatic, progressive philosophy" about politics and governing based primarily on results rather than ideology.

"It's a philosophy that measures the strength of an idea not by whether it's Republican or Democrat, but whether it can actually solve a problem and make a difference in people's lives," Obama said.

The selection of Kaine provides a glimpse into how Obama will approach the purely political elements of his new job, a topic he and his inner circle have largely shied away from discussing publicly following his victory over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Since then, Obama has focused almost exclusively on burnishing his bipartisan credentials, particularly in regard to the economic crisis -- actions almost directly at odds with the traditional mission of the partisan DNC. The juxtaposition was on display at yesterday's event when it was announced moments before Obama and Kaine arrived that they would not take questions, despite the event's billing as a news conference.

In addition to the close relationship between the two men, it was the similarity in their political approaches that recommended Kaine to Obama, said Mo Elleithee, communications director for the governor's 2005 campaign.

"Kaine is, in many ways, Obama's political soul mate -- the one national Democratic official whose political approach best mirrors his," Elleithee said. He added that both men preach a mantra of openness and inclusiveness, and that "it's clear that Obama wants to keep focus on that message while continuing to build the party at the most local level."

In an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters, Kaine said he told Obama that he does not intend to be an "attack dog" for the new president.

"I am very much a promoter of my team, but I don't do it in a negative way," Kaine said. "I'm not the mean-spirited guy."

He also indicated that he told Obama he will be largely absent from the national debate during the next two months, while the Virginia legislature is in session. "I can't do anything during the legislative session. They understand that," he said.

Kaine was one of the first prominent Democratic officeholders to get behind Obama, endorsing him in February 2007 -- a point both men made at yesterday's news conference.

In installing Kaine as DNC chairman and Jen O'Malley Dillon -- who ran Obama's battleground-state campaigns during the general election -- as its executive director, Obama is ensuring that the accomplished political operation built during that race, boasting an e-mail list 13 million addresses strong, will stay in the hands of those he trusts most.

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